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Life of Pi Analysis of the Sloth [narrator's rhetorical techniques]

spkang1998 1 / -  
Feb 20, 2015   #1
The prompt: Write an essay in which you consider the narrator's rhetorical techniques and analyze the tone he creates. What does this tell us about Pi?

TITLE: Imagine

In between the words "sloth" and "slotter" in the dictionary is a strange word: slothful. Both the Oxford and Merriam-Webster dictionaries define slothful as simply another term for lazy. Yet, to Piscine Molitor "Pi" Patel, the sloth's adjective cousin does not define it; to Pi, the sloth is something of an inspiration, representing something to be looked upon with wonder and veneration. To show this, he first describes the sloth as oblivious and unconcerned with its surroundings, and then explains the irony of this supreme weakness being the sloth's greatest strength; Pi's admiration of the sloth reveals the longing Pi has for the serene and tranquil life of the sloth, living in harmony, rather than in conflict, with nature.

Initially, the sloth is depicted as inattentive and lazy, two undesirable qualities. Acclaimed naturalist and marine biologist William Beebe gave "the sloth's senses of taste, touch, sight and hearing a rating of two, and its sense of smell a rating of three" - in a scale of two to ten. In all but one category, the sloth was rated the minimum amount. Delving into more practical and tangible measures of the sloth's senses, Pi describes how the sloth sees everything in a "Magoo-like blur" and firing guns elicits "little reaction." Not only this, but even with an above-minimum rating of three in smell, sloths often fall to the ground "clinging to decayed branches." Magoo-like blur is a reference to Mr. Magoo, the main character of critically acclaimed cartoon The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo. Mr. Magoo is a wealthy retiree cursed with the impairment of nearsightedness; as a result, he frequently finds himself knocking on trouble's door. However, he always manages to somehow get himself out of unpleasant situations. Similarly, the sloth also has various disabilities in its senses; as a result, it cannot detect danger like a gun being fired and cannot discriminate between safety and hazard, resulting in it encountering unfortunate situations such as falling because it could not detect that the branch it was clinging to was decayed. Through both scientific ratings and real-life situations and characters, Pi depicts that the sloth as apathetic, lazy, and lethargic.

Yet, like Mr. Magoo, the sloth is a survivor - and it is the way in which the sloth survives that inspires and impresses Pi. According to him, "sleepiness and slothfulness keep it out of harm's way," away from the predatory grasps of the various dangers of the jungle. The irony is not lost upon Pi; he states that the sloth survives "precisely by being so slow." The sloth's slothfulness makes it an inconspicuous target for potential hunters. Humans, since before the dawn of civilization, have always reacted to predators in a destructive manner; a hunting group might go out to kill the beast, fires may be lit to scare them off, or traps could be laid to catch it. On the contrary, the sloth simply stays put - and in doing so, effectively becomes a part of nature. Pi states that the sloth is so sedentary that it will "shelter [...] algae [...] so the animal blends in" with its surroundings. The sloth's camouflage is not simply like nature, it is nature; the sloth and the algae both benefit from their mutual symbiosis. The sloth survives not by destroying nature, but by living in perfect harmony with it - a notable contrast with Pi, who has admitted that his self, his soul has been shattered. It is this that causes Pi to imagine he is in the presence of a mystical "[yogi] deep in meditation" or "wise being" with "imaginative lives [...] beyond" his understanding instead of a simple sloth. What Pi finds so marvelous about the sloth is its simplicity, and the way it uses its simplicity to survive. Pi has suffered greatly throughout his life; indeed, the book begins with a declaration of his suffering. He is enthralled, perhaps even envious of the sloth's untroubled and harmonious lifestyle.

John Lennon once asked us to imagine a world with nothing to kill or die for, a world with no need for greed or hunger, a world where all people live life in peace. It was this world that Pi was able to get a glimpse of in one of the lowliest of creatures: the humble sloth. He hopes that one day, he too can live in such perfect balance with nature - that he be able to live a "peaceful, vegetarian life in perfect harmony with [the] environment."

Thank you!
EF_Alyssa - / 8 9  
Feb 21, 2015   #2
This is a beautiful essay, and really I don't have much to recommend as far as grammar. All your sentences flow very well, and your punctuation is good. However, you might consider lessening your use of semi-colons. They are very tricky to use correctly, and when possible it's normally a good practice to split the sentence into two sentences. I would particularly recommend this for your thesis ("Pi's admiration [...] nature.") so that it stands out on its own.

My biggest tip would be: Don't forget to source your material! Some professors will consider it plagiarism if you do not have references for your quotes. The standard for literature is MLA. There are a lot of thorough guides online (more thorough than I can give in a comment), but the most important thing is to have the author and page number credited at the end of a sentence where you've quoted someone.

For example:
According to him, "sleepiness and slothfulness keep it out of harm's way," away from the predatory grasps of the various dangers of the jungle ([AUTHOR'S NAME] [PAGE NUMBER].

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